October, 2010

Contra-Whig History of Economic Ideas and the Problem of the Endogenous Past

  • Peter J. Boettke

    Director, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
  • Peter Leeson

    Senior Fellow, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
  • Christopher Coyne

    Associate Director, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
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Read the full article at SSRN.com.

This paper provides a critical challenge to the Whig view of economic ideas which hold that good ideas from the past are embodied in the common scientific wisdom. In contrast to this position, we contend that the market for ideas, while no doubt competitive in terms of scientific rivalry, is not free of distortions in the incentives and signals that guide economic scientists. As a result, ideas which are flawed can come to dominate the profession, while useful ideas are left on the proverbial side-walk of intellectual affairs. The smooth evolution of economic thought from falsehood to truth that underlies the Whig perspective is complicated by both historical circumstances and the intimate relationship between economics and politics that follows from the attraction of public policy for those who enter the discipline.